The Trippiest Kids’ Shows of the 70s and 80s
Last week, I wrote an article on the Nickelodeon TV Show You Can’t Do That on Television, surely the genesis for writing this piece, as that show would surely appear on this list. It got me thinking about just how strange many of the kids’ TV shows of the 70s and 80s were, contemplating what, besides sheer fun, the creators were thinking. How many of these bizarre, but ultimately classic, TV shows do you remember?
The New Zoo Revue
From 1972-1977, The New Zoo Revue was a syndicated children’s that delighted with its three quirky animal characters. Freddie was a clueless but loveable Frog, Henrietta was a fussy, well-mannered Hippopotamus with a southern accent, and Charlie was a crotchety know-it-all owl. Guided and advised by two humans, Doug and Emmy Jo, the show aspired to teach kids important lessons through song and dance. The New Zoo Revue was an award-winning program, highly regarded for its gentle and colorful way of reaching kids.
The Great Space Coaster
The Great Space Coaster (1981-1986) invited television audiences to board a rocket ship and fly away to an asteroid where strange characters lived. Three young singers named Francine, Roy and Danny take the trip to Coasterville where they encounter such peculiar characters as Goriddle Gorilla, Edison the Elephant, and he newscaster Gary Gnu (No g-news is good g-news). The show is well remembered for its clever, Muppet-like puppets, and its infectious theme song.
The Magic Garden
Two hippies, Paula and Carole, frolicking in a magical garden, singing songs and playing dress-up, had all the wonderful earthy-crunchiness we associate with the early 70s. The Magic Garden (1972-1984) aired on NYC’s WPIX-11, but found a much larger audience, through cable television. There was a giant orange story box where Paula and Carole found the costumes and props to act-out fairy tales, and the Chuckle Patch where jokes could be found on each flower growing there. And let’s not forget Sherlock, the mischievously playful squirrel who lived in the Magic Tree.
Nickelodeon’s Today’s Special (1981-1987) was a product of TVOntario where it debuted, but the show found a wider viewership on the “Network for Kids.” Set inside a department store at night, a mannequin magically came to life and had adventures with the establishment’s window dresser, security guard, and in-house mouse. Special themes were explored, but that didn’t overshadow the playful peculiarity (and slight creepiness) of the mannequin turning from its spooky, plastic form into a human.
A bit like watching Sesame Street while on Quaaludes, Pinwheel (1977-1984) aired on TV’s Nickelodeon from the network’s debut. Set inside a large Victorian-style boarding house, the show was full of colorful characters including Aurelia (who owned Pinwheel house), her two nephews Pius and Minus, the elderly snail Silas, and a wide variety of others. Live-action skits were mixed with animated ones to make hour-long episodes. The show’s opening sequence may have been its most hallucinogenic evoking attribute.
Sid and Marty Krofft are famous for their series of wacky kids’ shows of the early 1970s, with The Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, and H.R. Pufnstuf, but the trip-trip-trippiest of all of them was Lidsville (1971-1973). The basic premise of the show was a boy (named Mark) who falls inside a magician’s magic hat and falls, Alice in Wonderland-style, into a town where all the characters are giant, walking/talking hats. A villain named Horatio J. Hoodoo (played by the equally trippy Charles Nelson Reilly) intimated the denizens of Lidsville, flying around and zapping them with his bolts of magic, forcing them to give him money.
The Electric Company
A sketch-comedy show interspersed with animated sequences that taught reading, The Electric Company is about as 1970s as you can get. Featuring a cast that included Oscar winners Rita Moreno and Morgan Freeman, a group of groovy (in the worst way) kids known as The Short Circus, as well as weekly installments of Spider-Man, The Electric Company was out-of-the-box-peculiar right down to its psychedelic logo and its funky theme song (written by Joe Raposo).